Longing to feel the cooling mist of a waterfall during the dog days of summer? Want to walk the very beginning steps of the Appalachian Trail? Well, the Chattahooche and the Oconee National Forests of Northern Georgia await! Two diverse forests, brought together under joint management, offer a variety of landscapes, vistas and recreation opportunities that can please just about anyone!
The rugged Chattahooche, labeled a true “hiker’s paradise” is home Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and also Brasstown Bald, the highest point in state. In contrast, the Oconee offers a much more gentle landscape of rolling hills and family friendly hiking and lake fishing . Both forests are also a historian’s dream, with remnants of the infamous Trail of Tears, the nation’s first gold rush and a multitude of Civil War Battlegrounds still remaining today.
During the early 1900s, widespread and unmanaged logging left a wake of destruction in the region. As lands that “nobody wanted,” the forests were acquired by the government under the Weeks Act . At the time, deer and trout populations had almost completely disappeared and the land faced a long road to recovery.
But thanks to the conservation efforts of Forest employees like Ranger Arthur Woody, who purchased and fed fawns with his own personal money before releasing them into the wild, the National Forests of Georgia are now home to vibrant and diverse ecosystems once again.
And these landscapes—from mountain tops and mountain lakes to rolling hills and valleys—offer a wealth of recreation opportunities. In addition to the nine other Wilderness areas on the forests, the 34,000 acre Cohutta Wilderness (the largest federally designated Roadless Area in the East) offers great undisturbed fishing opportunities and true, wild solitude.
Year round, Atlanta residents flock to the forests for weekend getaways that include everything from camping and swimming to waterfall viewing and horseback riding. River runner’s make the pilgrimage to the boating Mecca of the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River, home to some of the most challenging whitewater in the Southeast, and one of the region’s last free-flowing rivers. But, if you’d rather just stand and watch the water pass you by, Anna Ruby Falls Recreation Area is always a crowd pleaser.
And if you’re looking to do some rooting around in Georgia’s rich and lively past, visit the ghost town of Scull Shoals, where history buffs can take a stroll through the deserted buildings of the settlement that once boasted the state’s first paper mill.
Whatever your recreational or historical pleasure may be, the Chattahoochee and the Oconee offer up a host of opportunities to get outside and explore. And from thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail to the ghosts of the past, who knows who you’ll run into.